A Silent Death by Peter May

Reviewed by Gerard Healy

Peter May’s crime thriller kept me engaged to the final scene on the rugged Rock of Gibraltar.  Most of the story is set, however, in nearby southern Spain where expat villain Jack Cleland is living under the radar.  After a fatal shooting, he comes to the attention of the local police and Britain’s National Crime Authority.  Detective John Mackenzie is sent out from London to collect Cleland and bring him back – but things don’t go to plan.

The story then settles down to a hunt for the killer on the one hand and a revenge tale on the other.  Cleland blames a local policewoman, Christina Sanchez Pradell, for the death of his pregnant girlfriend and vows to hurt her family in return.

The unlikely pairing of the local cop, Christina, and the more experienced foreigner Mackenzie provides an odd-couple formula that works.  While Mackenzie is a talented investigator, he does call a spade a spade, which doesn’t endear him to his estranged family or his colleagues.  Christina has her own problems juggling a busy home life with a career in a ‘boys club’ environment.

The development of this relationship from its awkward start to a gradual build-up of trust is well done.  With both characters’ marriages coming under strain, we’re left wondering if romance might in the air eventually.

It is Christina’s aunt Ana who becomes the main focus in Cleland’s twisted mind and thereby a key character in the story.  She has been profoundly deaf and blind for her adult life.  The writer spends quite a considerable time going into the details of these conditions and how she attempts to cope with her silent world.  He also gives a lengthy description of the communication devices she uses as well as the sad story of a thwarted teenage romance.

The long excursion into Ana’s dark world appeared to slow the pace of the story which otherwise was good.

Just as we come to know the character of Ana reasonably well, so too do we get to understand and sympathise with Christina.  She faces the added pressure of having her loved ones the object of Cleland’s murderous intent.  In comparison, the male characters seemed to lack some of this depth.  The detective hero is remarkably brave, resourceful and talented but emotionally wooden, while the gangster is ruthless and clever.  The other minor male characters fill the roles of husband, local police colleagues, in-laws, etc without a very strong presence in the main.

One of the strengths of the book is the well-written descriptions of ordinary life in Spain.  Given that the writer has lived there for extended periods, this is not surprising.

From the heat coming off the streets to the local food and customs, Peter May paints a believable picture of everyday existence.  Added to this is the effect that economic booms and downturns have had, as well as the influx of refugees and the scourge of drugs as a corrupting influence on society.

Another authentic feature of the book is the relationships between the local police, regional forces and the international agencies involved.  Power tussles, misunderstandings and rivalries seep into the mix.  Mackenzie discovers that all is not what it seems when it comes to law and order on the Costa de Crime – as the region is nicknamed.

I would recommend this book to crime/thriller readers with a taste for a well-written tale set in a foreign land.

Peter May was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1951 but now lives in France with his wife Janice.  He is an award-winning crime writer, TV screenwriter and novelist, who has sold over 4.5 million books world-wide.  One of his better-known novels in The Blackhouse [2009] which commenced the Lewis trilogy.

Quirky fact: he won a crime fiction prize in France judged only by the inmates of French jails.

A Silent Death

[2020]

by Peter May

Hachette UK

ISBN 978 1 78429 499 1

$17.99; 430pp

Scroll to Top